When the deceased dies leaving a will, the heirs entitled to deal with the estate are named in the will. When no will is left, the intestacy laws tell us who is entitled to inherit the estate.
Unless the value of the estate left by the deceased is very small, no financial institution will release the assets they hold in the name of the deceased to the heirs without authority. Everyone will ask for a decision on the acquisition of inheritance. What is it and how to get it?
A decision on the acquisition of inheritance is an official document confirming that the persons named on it are entitled to inherit the estate and in what proportions (e.g. a spouse and three children in equal parts of 25% each). The decision can be obtained either from the court as a result of the probate proceedings or from the notary public in a form of a special inheritance certificate.
Typically, an application for a decision on the acquisition of inheritance is made within several months after the death. Formally speaking, there is no deadline by which an application for a decision must be made. The application can be made by each of the heirs acting individually or all of them acting jointly. If all the heirs agree as to the proposed steps and if all of them can attend the meeting at the notary public personally, then the easiest way forward is to arrange the meeting at the notary office in Poland and sign the deed on the acquisition of inheritance. Then, the notary public will issue a special inheritance certificate.
If there is any disagreement among the heirs or if any of the heirs can not attend the visit at the notary office in person, then the only route is the probate proceedings by the local court. Depending on the situation the probate proceedings take between 12 and 18 months.
The decision on the acquisition of inheritance in Poland is similar to a grant of probate in the UK or US however, there are important differences. The most important difference is that in the Polish system the estate of the deceased is inherited by the heirs automatically at the moment of death without intermediary of the executor or administrator, while in the UK system there has to be an intermediation of the executor. In the Anglo-Saxon countries, a grant of probate is an official document confirming that the person named on it is entitled to deal with the estate, i.e. collect all the assets, pay all liabilities and debts of the estate and distribute the net balance to entitled beneficiaries. This is not the case in Poland.
If any of the heirs needs to collect information about all assets of the deceased and their value at the time of death, he or she can apply to the Polish bailiff with the motion to prepare the formal inventory of assets. Then, the bailiff will raise enquiries with the family, go through the deceased documentation, write to banks and financial institutions, policy holders etc. The inventory of assets prepared by the bailiff will be the formal basis for the division of the estate (the next phase of the process).
When no will is left, the Polish intestacy laws apply and the family members inherit the estate in the following order:
- spouse and children (if the children do not outlive the testator, the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and so on),
- spouse and parents (if the deceased has no children),
- parents and siblings (if the siblings do not outlive the testator, the descendants of the siblings),
- grandparents (if there is no spouse, children, parents, siblings or descendants of siblings); if the grandparents do not live to see the inheritance, it will fall to their descendants and if one of them did not live to see the inheritance, then their children,
- stepchildren (if there is no one among all of the above),
- municipality or the State Treasury (if the deceased has not left any family members).
If any of the heirs refuse the inheritance, that heir is treated as if he did not outlive the testator.
Under the Polish intestacy rules, the spouse and the children inherit in equal parts. However, the share for the spouse must not be smaller than one quarter of the entire estate.